Jesus and Politics: Religion With Responsibility

One thing I love about the book of Revelation is its focus on the imminent return of Jesus Christ. It speaks of how He will defeat the kingdoms of this world, and usher in a new kingdom governed by love, justice, equality and truth.

When Heaven Becomes an Excuse

This hope in the soon coming of Jesus is essential to the faith-walk of a believer. However, as a young, black Christian man, the songs that speak of heaven are drowned out by the cries of those living in an earthly hell. Have we become so focused on glory that we have created a culture where hope in eternity is a sort of eschatological escapism?

I know that we are waiting on the return of Jesus, but I believe that the people of God should be working while we are waiting. Let’s be honest, the world needs us, right now. If we are going to take on the name of Jesus, we must also take on the agenda of Jesus.

The Politics of Jesus

In Luke, Jesus said the Spirit anointed Him to proclaim good news to the poor, set captives free, and bring liberty to the oppressed. In spite of these verses, many have been taught not to engage in “social movements” or “politics.” I would like to suggest that if we believe that Christ cares for the whole being, we should definitely use every resource possible to bring liberty to the oppressed among us, even if that means becoming engaged in the political process.

When there are policies that disproportionately impact the health of women of color, we must fight to change those policies.

When certain neighborhoods of predominantly black and brown people don’t have adequate healthy food options, and the life expectancy rate of that neighborhood is lower than that of a majority white neighborhood in the next town over, we must get involved.

When the median wealth in white America is 10 times the median wealth in black America, we must do something.

Christians Engaged in Politics

It is possible to become politically and socially engaged without becoming corrupt. We shouldn’t fight for power or prestige. We shouldn’t engage with the hopes of lording over people. We don’t even have to align with one particular political party. But when we see issues that are aiding in the oppression of people who cannot speak up for themselves, as believers, we have a responsibility to be their advocates. Here are three reasons why as followers of Christ we have the responsibility to be advocates and activists.

Reason #1: Jesus Advocated for the Oppressed

The Bible is a book of hope to people who are either going into oppression, experiencing oppression, or coming out of oppression. The overwhelming narrative of scripture is that God always sides with the marginalized people of society. You cannot read scripture and come to the conclusion that God is the defender of the empire.

He is the God of the Hebrew slave.

He is the God of the young woman in Babylonian captivity.

He is the God of the forgotten leper relegated to the outside of the city.

He is the God of the teenage refugee protecting her newborn from a murderous king.

He is the God of the religious minority risking life and liberty in the shadows of the Roman empire.

In light of Scripture, our political activity should be for the purpose of advocating for the people God has called us to defend. We should support candidates whose agendas set out to present policies that make life better for the marginalized among us.

Reason #2: Our Communities Need More Than Charity

I remember being a child in church and discovering our congregation’s food pantry. I remember my parents explaining to me that our church gave food away to people who were poor and didn’t have the money to buy groceries. This was surely a noble deed. As I got older, I began to question why so many people who looked like me, and lived in certain neighborhoods needed food from church pantries?

Many of our congregations are known for doing charitable work in our communities. Let me be clear, charity is good, and necessary. Jesus said “I was hungry and you fed me, naked and you clothed me.” Righteousness is demonstrated by meeting the present needs of people. However, at some point, we have to ask ourselves why certain people in certain demographics continue to need food, or help with rent, or services provided by free health clinics.

Charity responds to the  symptoms of a much deeper sickness. Certain communities remain in need because of systemic evil. Yes, we need to clothe the naked, but we also have to ask ourselves why our children can’t afford clothing and new school uniforms? Why aren’t wages keeping up with the rising cost of living? Yes, we should feed the hungry, but we must also deal with the joblessness and income inequality that keeps certain people groups food insecure. We should house the marginalized immigrant, but we must also fight against the policies that force them into hiding in the first place.

As we aim to tear down certain oppressive strongholds and systems, we must recognize that something as simple as voting, can make a big difference in the shaping of public policy.

Reason #3: Social and Political Engagement Helps Our Witness

Finally, we as a church should engage socially and civically because it helps our witness. My pastor used to always say, people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. When the church fights for people’s right to vote, marches in protest of a criminal justice system void of justice, and publicly supports policies that protect the economically vulnerable, people will be more willing to hear about our Jesus. It is possible that an introduction to Jesus the social advocate, can lead to a relationship with Jesus the savior.

So yes, let’s look forward to the return of Jesus. He is our hope. But as we wait on Jesus, remember there’s a world waiting on us.

Keep Focused On The Prince Of Peace

Message Magazine’s Online Devotional for Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Today’s Scripture Focus: “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it. Brethren, pray for us” (1 Thessalonians 5:23–25).

We are taking a temporary break from our sin recovery principles, which we will continue soon.

Pray for us! These are words by which to live, and they must be reciprocal. In light of the perplexities of human relations right now, have you committed to praying for people? As we prepare for and await the Second Coming of Christ, how diligent are you in seeking God’s face on behalf of others? This will be key in building bridges while others are burning them down.

Purified By The God Of Peace

Notice Paul’s benediction here. He invokes the God of peace to purify completely, dedicate, and consecrate his readers. Do you need to be purified, dedicated, and consecrated? He invokes the God of peace to consecrate his reader’s whole lives to be preserved blameless until Jesus returns. When was the last time you looked forward to Christ’s return? When was the last time, especially in the last few weeks, that you invoked the God of peace on behalf of others (all others, barring none)?

The reason I am taking my time walking through each step of this benediction is that there are extreme tests and trials that will continue to shake us. There is injustice that must be combated. There are oppressed for whom we must advocate. There are orphans, widows, and the downtrodden for whom we must do and require better.

Yet some of us (thankfully, not all of us) have lost focus as we struggle in this thankless, hateful, earthly predicament, and have forgotten that the devil intends for all of it to keep people from receiving eternal life. He intends for people to lose sight of the fact that, as Paul continues in his invocation, Jesus is indeed faithful and will preserve as blameless those who commit themselves to God’s care.

Press For Justice; Press For The Kingdom

He said He would do it. Do you still believe He will do it or do you believe like so many other desperate souls that looking forward to Jesus’ return is pie in the sky? Please resist with every fiber of your being, to be earthly kingdom-centric. If we did not learn but one thing from the lives of the disciples during Jesus’ time, I hope it was that Jesus will not overthrow all oppression in an earthly kingdom. So as you struggle to set the captives free and press for justice everywhere, please do also redouble your efforts to deliver as many souls from sin as we await the eternal, holy kingdom of God to replace the status quo forever.

The Lion of the tribe of Judah will soon roar and save every nation, kindred, tongue, and people that are preserved in His name.

In the spirit of Paul’s invocation, please pray for us as we pray for you. For this battle cannot be won without sincere, diligent prayer.

Plead Justice: A Mother’s Wisdom To Her Son

Message Magazine’s Online Devotional for Monday, July 11, 2016

Today’s Scripture Focus: “Open thy mouth for the dumb In the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction. Open thy mouth, judge righteously, And plead the cause of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8–9).

We are taking a temporary break from our sin recovery principles, which we will continue soon.

Much has been said about the Proverbs 31 woman, and appropriately so. I am afraid, however, that she is so arrestingly desirable that commentators often neglect the context of the entire chapter, accompanying counsel, and the backstory, all of which are particularly helpful in light of our current news cycle.

As you can see in the opening verses, this chapter is excerpted from loving counsel given by King Lemuel (a king of Massa’s) mother on how he should live and rule. She implores him to stay away from froward women who would certainly destroy him. She cautions him against wine and strong drinks, which cause people to forget the law and to pervert justice. Please pay attention here! And then she describes the kind of woman whom any powerful, self-respecting, and holy man would love to have by his side.

If you were paying attention to the text, you would realize that I left out the counsel underscored in our theme text. This loving mother, who was determined to keep her vow to nurture and instruct her son even as he ascended the throne, shared an invaluable lesson we must get, regardless of our station in life, today. She taught him to speak up for those without a voice in society. She taught him to stand up for those that are being subjugated through injustice. She taught him to speak out to defend the rights of the poor and needy. She taught him to administer righteous justice for the downtrodden.

Vision Becomes Reality

What are you teaching those over whom you have influence? What are you modeling and requiring of those in positions of authority in your community and the larger society? Can you imagine what a world we would have if more people stood up against drunkenness, illicit relationships, and injustice? Can you imagine if more people were taught to defend the defenseless? Interestingly, this is not a dream to imagine such. This is not a vision of grandeur. It is not a utopian perspective. It’s just right. It’s just how people should live, even if we struggle with sin sometimes. Notice that King Lemuel’s mother did not say that she was waiting for the day that God would establish justice at the Second Coming (which He will). No. She made it abundantly clear that the king had work to do right then.

What are you doing to effect change and encourage justice right now? Are you using your position of influence to be the change? Are you using voice, pen, vote, TV/radio/Web/social media, hands-on mentorship, or child rearing to effect the changes in the world according to the king’s mother’s counsel? Pray for God to show you how to do so today. As long as injustice exists for anyone and you can observe the fact, you can and must do your part to combat it.

Condemning Rape In Religious Circles

“Consider it, confer, and speak up!” It’s a message that should be heeded by families, churches and communities today.

Last week, President Obama explained why the nation celebrates Women’s History Month each March during a speech at the White House.

“We have people here who’ve been working together to advance women’s equality for decades,” the President said. “That is why we celebrate Women’s History Month – not to get complacent, but to take a moment each year and celebrate the achievements that women have fought so hard to achieve, and to rededicate ourselves to tackling the challenges that remain.”

The prevalence of rape and sexual assault would have to be at or near the top of any list of remaining challenges. According to a 2010 national survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1 in 3 women have “experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.” So, by the way, have 1 in 4 men.

One out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. Most rapes, an estimated 80 percent, were committed by someone who was a friend, acquaintance, family member, spouse, lover or in some way known by victim.

Younger women and girls are particularly vulnerable – 15 percent of sexual assault and rape victims are under age 12; nearly one-third are between 12 and 17; 44 percent are under 18; 80 percent are under 30. Teenage girls 16 to 19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.

Rape is not just a problem in the United States. The New York Times published a chilling story last summer that began with an unnamed 12-year-old girl recounting her rape by an Islamic State fighter.

She said that before he raped her, he told her that the rape was sanctioned by the Quran because she wasn’t a Muslim. She said he knelt beside the bed on which she lay bound, prostrating himself in prayer before raping her. After he finished his brutal assault, he prayed again.

The child said that she told the man he was hurting her. She asked him to stop. His reply was that by raping her he was deepening his relationship with God.

x-ray priestThis fusion of rape and religion is horrifying, but it is not unique. In 2008, Baylor University began an extensive study of clergy sexual misconduct. Its findings are sobering:

  • More than 3 percent of the women who had attended church within 30 days of being surveyed said that a clergy person or religious leader – minister, priest, rabbi, etc. – had made sexual advances or propositions toward them at some point in their adult years;
  • 92 percent of these advances or propositions had been made secretly and by not by clergy persons whom they were dating;
  • 67 percent of the clergy making these advances were married to someone other than the survey respondents;
  • On average, 7 women in the typical American congregation – 400 members or attendees, 240 of whom are women – have been subjected to clergy sexual misconduct.

The Bible also tackles the problem of rape. Judges 19 tells the gruesome story that is remarkably similar to the main portions of the Sodom and Gomorrah story in Genesis 19.

It revolves around a Levite and his concubine (a wife or lover of secondary status, a “pilegesh” in Hebrew) who stop in an Israelite town to rest during their journey. They are invited by a man to stay in his home. A group of men go there and demand that the man of the house send the Levite out so they can rape him. The owner makes a counter offer of his virgin daughter and the Levite’s concubine.

Eventually, the Levite forced his concubine to go out to the men. They gang-raped her all night. When the Levite woke up in the morning, he got dressed and left the house. He found his concubine on the doorstep of his host’s house.

“Get up, let’s leave!” he yelled at her in verse 28. She never responded. He loaded her body on his donkey and headed home.

Verse 30 indicates that the Israelites were so horrified by the gang-rape and murder of the woman – and hopefully by the disturbing callousness of the Levite and his host – that they issued a stern warning:

“Consider it, confer, and speak up!” It’s a message that should be heeded by families, churches and communities today.

The reality of rape and its devastating impact must be acknowledged. Survivors, their families, community leaders and clergy need to work together, exploring ways to help survivors find their voices and experience healing.

Then all concerned must raise awareness by speaking out. The public needs to hear first-hand from survivors and their families the damage rape does. Communities need to know that their leaders are committed to protecting women and girls from predators, and to supporting them if they have been raped or assaulted.

Congregations need to know that their churches are safe places. They need to know that their pastors are committed to promoting awareness and healing.

It’s time, as President Obama said, to tackle the challenges that remain.